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who you looking at jesus

Who You Looking At?

Easter opens the eyes of our heart to see the Risen Christ. For the first time, again. He is here! He has walked through our walls; His gaze, lit with tender mercy, catches ours and enlivens our hearts, summoning us from the dead.

On Easter Sunday Annette and I experienced together that slight disappointment which one more often experiences on New Year’s Eve—high expectancy, low return. We were weary and subject to the slumber of small disturbances. We stalled at the empty tomb, our gazes cast down and dulled to the marvel of Jesus on the lam. I was jolted to life by the angels’ words to grieving tomb women: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!’ (LK 24:5).

I immediately went into prayer, looking for this holy Rover. I found Him in my Divine Mercy image, the Risen Christ regarding me kindly, His wounds yet visible and pouring forth a life-giving stream of blood and water. I love this glimpse of Jesus and I centered on it like a spent child hungry for a parent’s attention. I’ve stayed near merciful Jesus since then as I journeyed to the Philippines for our biggest training there yet, one distinguished by Chinese translation and many participants from that great land. Challenges of size and language came easily as I fixed my eyes on Divine Mercy in the meeting hall and in my room. Wherever I went, I knew He was nearer than a brother–looking, loving, and sustaining my efforts through pure mercy.

During the first night of ministry, Jesus said: ‘Now that your heart is clear due to the way I look at you, I want you to look at every person that way, the way that I look at you’! What? I protested: ‘God, I am a busy man: I put my head down and charge to the next thing. ‘Linger’, He instructed, ‘Look with marvel at each one I have sent. Be My loving gaze upon them.’

DSM Staff in Manila.

I did what He said. When I was tempted to race, I looked up and out and inquired visually of each one’s well-being, blessing each in a Spirit of generous mercy. Especially with frustrated or annoying faces before me, I maintained a stream of merciful contact. I was helped by Acts 3:4 when Peter said to the hurting man pleading for healing: ‘Look at us.’ The cripple obeyed and was instantly healed when he gazed at Peter and John. I claim no such apostolic power but I know that an inspired look of love to a soul cast down steadies the uncertain heart.

After a while, I began to see other things—from the merciful gaze came prophetic sight as to who these ones actually were. Prospective burdens became beautiful sons and daughters of our Father. A royal procession emerged from the ash heap: kings and queens, lovers and warriors, exquisite representatives of Jesus. The prophetic vision lasted throughout the week and only increased when God knew I would say what I saw. These ones now know that Jesus has destroyed the low ceiling that stunted their stature. As they emerge into their full, original form, we together proclaim in awestruck wonder: He has risen, and we with Him!

‘It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as what you meet…only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another.’ – C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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India Living Waters

India: God Answers

‘The poor and needy search for water but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst, but I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them…’ (IS 41:17)

It was a good sign. As I greeted my Thai colleague Sue and team at the Kolkata Airport, I looked behind her in line and saw a dozen Missionaries of Charity (St. Teresa’s team) gleaming in white robes, their eyes bright with Jesus as they awaited baggage check and a fresh advance in another region. We walk the path of blessed pioneers.

As Abbey and I motored our way up a dusty mountain to our destination of Shillong in the upper north of India—a finger of land surrounded by Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Nepal, and Bangladesh—I noticed roadside dust and clamor growing green as we ascended a mile high up the hills. Teeming with life, the city beckoned to us; after 40 hours of travel, we felt that strange blend of exhaustion and exhilaration and decided to walk to our first meeting.

What a reunion! Our hostess/leader Bobby is a dynamic, faith-filled wife and mother who simply believes God for the needs of persons in her city: she has started citywide outreaches to the poor, an orphanage she still runs, and now wants to ensure that the deep and often shame-shrouded needs of fellow Christians are met in a safe, merciful and effective way. Living Waters! She travelled twice to Thailand and once to The Philippines in order to raise up a team, and there they sat in front of us now, waiting to pray for our advance: beautiful, humble men and women who were growing whole together, now primed to release healing to others.

India Living Waters

Bobby and Family

Bobby recalled: ‘I was unsure if India was ready for Living Waters. We are an honor, family-based culture: we don’t talk about sexual matters or family wounds—these might dishonor loved ones. But when I returned from Thailand and told friends what I heard, they all started sharing deep, hard things. I realized that whether we like it or not, we need Living Waters!’

Before our first gathering, two fun things happened. Bobby gathered a group of pastors with whom we dined and discussed these issues. Their leader, Pastor Hamlet, reminded me of John Wimber—both wise and merciful men whom God blessed as founder/leaders of thriving denominations yet who only wanted to build up the whole body of Christ with the healing power of Jesus. Like Wimber, Hamlet prefers the Kingdom over church government. I love him.

Soon after our lunch I went for a long run up and down the narrow streets of Shillong and noticed an array of Catholic and Protestant institutions. I then discovered that Catholics had invested huge amounts of energy over the last several hundred years to bring the Gospel to these people—the Khati—and have left an array of schools and educational offerings for them. Further, Welsh missionaries landed there in the early 20th century, burning with the flames of revival ignited in Wales a decade earlier. This city is ready for Living Waters. I was so excited that I started running with a group of Indian soldiers and raced them to their barracks, tying for first with a man one-third my age.

Our conference was full of Jesus, tender and powerful in mercy to meet people in profound areas of need. We preached the truth of our own being-healed lives through the power of the Cross; signs and wonders followed. Like Ezekiel in the temple, the water levels kept rising. Because family is so crucial here, sons and daughters who were already receiving healing from Bobby and team brought parents who began to confess their wounds and failures. Families were being healed before our eyes.

I called up all persons who wanted to help release Living Waters in India; nearly everyone arose. Immediately I thought of Isaiah 41 where the prophet voices God’s commitment to answer the stifled cries of His people: ‘I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs’ (IS. 41: 18). As I shouted out these verses, I wept for I realized in a small way we were fulfilling God’s promise to the poor and needy. I saw waters cascading down the green heights of Shillong, throughout the thirsty byways of India.

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Fire. Burning. Notre Dame

Fire. Burning. Notre Dame.

Fire. Burning. Notre Dame.

Judgment at our house, right here, us.

More than a sign of French resilience: a church, our Church.

‘Bearing’ becomes ‘burning’. Bones on fire, lit by McCarrick and Vigano and Martel—strange prophets all—arsonists igniting icons—a house consumed.

And us, in the fire, uncertain, what will remain? Unconvinced by words. Now we burn, living icons; what will remain of us? No time for squabbles: we are burning, plucked from the flames and filthy, in His hands.

Holy fear: no other gods. Face down, blushing. Searing shame. Speechless.

Holy tears: little ones gone. Good grief. New kids bathed in rainbow light, shameless. Church sputtering, spineless. Fierce tears from flames, living water.

Holy ears: listening, at last, the Word rising from the ashes, burning in our bones, consuming us. If we say nothing, we perish.

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bearing the cross

Bearing

Though I love the benefits of Jesus’ cross, I am tempted to hate sharing in that cross with Him. It hurts to bear up under the burden He invites us to shoulder, namely grief over His Church.

During prayer for the healing of our corporate compromises, I realized: what I most value as a Christian—killing sin through swift confession before it kills me, my marriage, or another; living out loud in community in order to grow beyond same-sex attraction into real fruitfulness—is not enough believed or practiced in my Church. For this I suffer, a grief Jesus has invited me to bear. I am not alone but alongside other members who share these values and love the bride enough to grieve too.

This Lent He invited us into a little share of His cross; would we bear this for an hour or so each week in prayer? We discovered we couldn’t shake that burden after the meetings ended. It stayed with us, and seems now like a heart condition. Indeed, we carry it for her cleansing. Perhaps St. Paul’s mysterious reference in Col. 1:24 to bear in one’s body a share in Jesus’ suffering for His body applies here. Who knows? We pray on.

My friend Dana recalled her experience of a 14-mile procession she and friends made one Good Friday with a large wooden cross—each took turns shouldering it: ‘As I carried the cross, it sunk into me and its weight increased. It became a part of me; I realized that it was Jesus inviting me to walk with Him to help carry His cross. What seemed too heavy became doable with Him.’ Christ in us: to suffer, and to hope for glory (Col. 1: 27). That reminds me of Bonhoeffer’s words: ‘We know too little in the church today about the peculiar blessing of bearing. Bearing, not shaking off; bearing, but not collapsing either; bearing as Christ bore the cross, remaining underneath, and there beneath it, to find Christ.’

Having looked hard together at a scandalized Church, we have done more than meet to pray; rather, we have received a spirit of prayer with which to pray unceasingly for her. Over the long haul. Change takes time and occurs as prayer like underground wells spring up on the earth and accomplish the impossible.

We pray for witnesses of transformation in the sexual arena to arise and take their places alongside leaders who welcome, guide, and amplify their experience of an empowered Gospel.

We pray for the eloquent truth of Pope Emeritus Benedict—‘Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction which is not homosexual…its meaning is to bring about the union of man and woman which gives humanity posterity, children, future. This…is the essence of sexuality’—to fuse with the fatherly compassion of Pope Francis. May that fullness of mercy and truth compel Christians to turn from sexual sin (beginning with clergy) toward the arduous, splendid process of becoming chaste.

We pray for courageous leaders who eschew politics for the transformation of souls. Might orthodox leaders refuse clericalism by equipping lay men and women to serve the broken; might the unorthodox be routed lest the Church’s mercy be diluted further by the call to ‘accompaniment’ without repentance or discipline.

Might we, horrified by our own sin, find beneath the cross that no sin can ever be alien to us (Bonhoeffer) and in mercy cry out for all sinners–bishops and busboys, popes and plumbers. Might God grace us to bear holy grief and the hope of glory long after Lent.

‘We do not want you to grieve like those who have no hope…’ (1 Thess. 4:13).

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securing a fathers foundations

Securing a Father’s Foundations

In prayer with our Lenten group, I saw a flag pole waving an image of the Lamb of God; at a closer glance I could see its base had decomposed to the point that the pole began to waver then slammed to the ground, hurting many and scattering others. Last week, I revisited this vision of a predatory priest at a parish funeral of a middle-aged man, abused as a teen by a priest, who drank himself to death; his wife and kids are fighting hard not to abandon the Church altogether.

A priest’s faulty foundation damages everyone. How much of a fault-line is same-sex attraction among the celibate priesthood? How does such attraction relate to clerical abuse? How can we best help priests with this foundational problem?

We can say that Catholic clerical abuse is unique in its contrast to other institutions as it is primarily a male problem. The Boston ‘Spotlight’ scandal and the aforementioned John Jay Report involved 78-85% male teens; a most recent study of clerical abuse came out last fall and includes both the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report from 2018 and the LA Times Survey of Homosexuality among Priests (‘Is Clergy Sexual Abuse Relate to Homosexual Priests?’ D. Paul Sullins: sullins@cua.edu, The Catholic University of America; published by The Ruth Institute, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, president.) The study found that ‘the abuse of boys is very strongly related to the share of homosexual men in the priesthood…easier access to males among older victims was an enabling factor.’

Now a disclaimer: I distinguish persons (including priests) with same-sex attraction from men preying upon children. Most same-sex attracted men have no sexual history with minors.

However, the adult male sexuality of teens combined with their youthful vulnerability can be tempting to some men, especially in a culture of secrecy over one’s attractions and a nearly male-only community of formation. Further, more than a few Catholic priests were abused as teens, a combustion of shame and lust that stalled development and can tempt one to furtive replays. F. Martel writes ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’ that ‘the culture of secrecy needed to maintain the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed abuse to be hidden and for predator’s to act’ (p. 93).

Faulty foundations. Add to this how the celibate requirement of the priesthood provides one with a seeming ‘pass’ from reckoning squarely with conflictual desires. No woman needed; no need to work out who one is in relation to her. I have witnessed many persons with same-sex attraction who assume a celibate ‘call’ rather than a mandate to look deeper at the meaning of their desires—an invitation to a fuller repentance unto spiritual maturity and sexual integration.

My friend Jim—a 6-year candidate for the priesthood–never thought he could be more than an abstaining, same-sex attracted celibate. He then considered: ‘how can I authentically lay down natural fathering if I’ve never longed for a wife and family?’ Through a healing community, he is discovering who he is in relation to woman so he can decide with a whole-enough heart if God is calling him to natural or spiritual fatherhood.

The point should be clear: any priest seeking a secure foundation on which to spiritually father both men and women needs to work out his life as a sexual man in the light of Jesus and His healing community. That means knowing himself, growing in security and purity as a man through connectedness with other men, and learning the good rhythm of his need for the woman’s gift. Clear and consistent growth in integration has never been more essential for the priesthood and for the integrity of Jesus’ Church and His children.

Amid it all, I have high hopes for men with same-sex attraction who love Jesus and who committed to integration along with others who are equally committed to mastering their traditional idolatries (usually porn addiction). I highly recommend Drs. Kleponis and Fitzgibbons’ ‘The Distinction between Deep-Seated Homosexual Tendencies and Transitory Same-Sex Attractions in Candidates for Seminary and Religious Life.’ Download this most important document, for it highlights what I have discovered after 40 years of pastoral ministry in this area: that the person, not the depth of his moral problem, determines his destiny.

Men who live in the light of truth—that God neither created them ‘gay’ nor saddled them with desires that cannot be mastered with incisive care and community—can ‘transition’ into the fathers of God’s design. On the other hand, Catholic priests who insist that they are ‘gay’, that there is nothing to heal, and who seek to reinforce their queer natures with likeminded others are the ‘deep-seated’ ones–toxic influences who obscure the highway to holiness and make a crooked path for generations-to-come.

So we pray:
1. For an end to a culture of secrecy in all priestly and religious formation, for truthful and merciful onramps on which candidates can work out disordered desires, gender identity formation, childhood trauma, and sexual addiction.
2. For conscientious commitment to helping seminarians ensure that they are becoming mature expressions of their sexual gift and not fleeing sexual conflicts.
3. Hope for priests to overcome homosexuality through persistent repentance unto Jesus’ expert care and community; admonition and discipline to fathers who advocate for LGBT ‘selves’ and invoke the authority of the Church to do so.

May we not protect the foundation of any priest built on sand. Yet we prayerfully honor and ask protection upon those fathers who in weakness have surrendered to the Rock. Long may their flags wave, upright and true!

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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